Success Is All in a Day’s Work
Success Is All in a Day’s Work
Merry Christmas, everybody, and happy New Year.
First off, I don't have any new advice on stocks right now. I still like the S&P 500 Index Fund, the widest possible total stock market index funds (such at the Fidelity Total Stock Market Index Fund), the European, Far Eastern, and Australasian Index Fund (EFA), the Emerging Markets Index Fund (EEM), and the Russell 2000 Value (IWN).
I wouldn't have a ton of the EEM right now because it's gone up so high and because so much of it is Russian, and I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. But a bit is all right. I also like the Cohen & Steers Quality Real Estate Income Fund (RQI), although it's also very high. For the very long run, though, it'll be fine (I hope).
A Wasted Weekend
Anyway, I don't want to talk about stocks right now. For most of us, our primary source of income is our own livelihood. I think I have something more useful to say about that.
Today, a Sunday, I had a long phone conversation with a young man who lives in Washington, D.C., my ancestral home. He's 30 years old and a highly talented writer. He aspires to be famous, although right now he's a humble writer for as newsletter about environmental protection legal issues. He calls me many times each day and tells me how eager he is to be famous and much better-paid.
When this man, whom I'll call Chuck, called me on my car phone, I asked him what he'd done with his weekend. "I played tennis," he said. "Then I swam, then I hung out at a bar in Georgetown. That was on Saturday. Today, I played tennis and swam, then watched the football game, and now I'm about to go to a movie."
He asked me what I did with my weekend. "Well, you're 30 and I'm 62," I replied. "So on Saturday I researched some issues about hedge funds. Then I studied the performance of some of my investments. Then, today, I worked very hard on a research paper on basic economic issues of hedge funds, and then I did some investigation into the performance of defunct auto parts companies."
"Wow, he said. "I wish I could have done that."
The Truth Hurts
By then I was out of patience. "Look," I said, "you want to be a writer. No one knows who you are now outside a tiny circle. But you're a good writer. Why don't you write a short freelance article every day? Just on whatever comes into your mind. Then try to get them published. Throw them against the wall. If one in three gets published, in a year you'll be really well-known and in five years you'll be a household name."
"But I don't have that many ideas," he said.
"Well, beginning writers are required to have an unlimited stock of ideas. So either get the ideas or get out of the business."
"I don't want to just write garbage," he said.
"Then don't write garbage."
"I don't want to just have frivolous articles," Chuck added.
I paused a while and broke the news to him. "You're not really cut out for fame and success You're making excuses instead of working. You're hanging out at bars instead of writing."
I continued, "The people who make it in this field work all of the time. They work weekends. They work nights. They work holidays. They're hungry and they work like demons."
"You don't like me," Chuck said. "I don't feel well. I have to go now."
Effort Equals Success
He hung up, but as I drove along, I had a sudden realization. I know a lot of really successful people -- in finance, in government, in politics, in Hollywood, in journalism, in literature.
Their common denominator is a modicum of talent and a capacity and an eagerness -- not just a willingness, but an eagerness -- to work like Trojans to get ahead. I don't know of one really successful, famous man or woman who didn't work insanely hard to get there and to stay there. (I don't count heirs and heiresses as successful.)
Please don't get me wrong. Fame and money don't guarantee happiness. It's perfectly possible to be famous and unhappy, just as it's perfectly possible to be happy and obscure. Most of all, I assure you that while money is fabulous stuff, it by no means assures happiness or peace of mind.
But for those who want to be rich and famous (or rich or famous), there's no way to do it without daily, unremitting work. It's best if the seeker loves his work so much that he or she doesn't even consider it a burden, but rather a joyful, fulfilling, highly organizing principle of life.
As for little old me, who makes no claims to anything like being a great example, I would go crazy in about a week without having work to do. I would have little sense of worth or even of who I was without work.
Get to Work (Tomorrow)
If you feel differently and get your sense of joy or purpose from going to movies or playing pool and hoisting a few beers with your pals, more power to you. But don't expect to be famous or rich.
There's nothing wrong with seeing your life as something divorced from your work. There's not a thing amiss in not caring if you ever get to be in the headlines or on TV. But if that's what you desire, you have to get to work.
Don't make excuses. Don't shirk. Just get to work and stay there until it's not work any more, but your life. That's success in and of itself.
Today, however, I give you my happy permission to avoid your work. In fact, your work today is to love the people close to you, and then to go to bed with a smile on your face.
Then, tomorrow, get up and go to work. Fate will accept no substitutes.